Uganda has again defended its policy of a surge in Somalia. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni clearly sees his goals in Somalia as beyond the Transitional Federal Government. He has said he would withdraw Ugandan troops which form the main fighting force against the Al Qaeda affiliated Al Shabaab militants in Mogadishu. There are some interesting developments here, which could be the subject of a bigger lesson. Firstly a political dialogue once a primary part of Uganda’s Somalia strategy has evaporated. When Uganda entered Somalia a potential deal between Somalia’s clans looked possible. In Kampala President Yoweri Museveni’s advisors actually delayed the main shipment of the Ugandan forces, which were to form the African Union troops (AMISOM), while an understanding was arrived at with members then of the main Hawiye clan.
Since then the radicalization of the conflict, the emergence of the Al Shabaab as well as the attacks on Uganda in 2010 have shifted Uganda’s projections in Somalia.
The change of the situation on the ground has gone hand in hand with the TFG’s deterioration as a location for political consensus in Somalia. Since my last visit to the UN Security Council in October of 2010, when Uganda then chairing the Council, sought to improve funding to AMISOM, the sense was that a military victory over Shabaab was the new strategic goal.
My own take on this issue predates Uganda’s current position. State failure in Somalia has been hostage to the State as an institution of reference to resolving the Somalia question.
Well, there is no State in Somalia today to fail to start with. So critics of the TFG as an institution including me, conclude quite rightly, that it is a shell not worth a lot unless it projects power and authority over Somalia proper.
So far the inadequacy of Somalia policy is that it has been one of containment. Uganda’s allies, including the US see the TFG essentially as an instrument against the Al Shabaab and have narrowly constructed their engagement in military terms. This may explain why AMISOM remains a skinny, lean instrument and how despite the regional import of the emergence of Shabaab in Somalia, a robust regional response, which I favor, as never been truly encouraged.
This is because state failure itself does not threaten the goals of the allies or to a large extent Uganda and Burundi’s own goals in being engaged there. As long as the Shabaab needed be confronted, the TFG will continue to exist.
Other non-military activities of the Shabaab, its involvement in piracy, creating parallel structures of governance under Sharia, the public hangings and brutalization of women are well, second place. The surge proposed by Uganda ( the bill of which was picked up by the international community) nonetheless remains the best option to deal with the situation in Somalia. It would confront the Shabaab military but also create new (much needed opportunities) to revisit the state-building issue, and its attendant context in Somalia.
Perhaps the lesson I draw from this is not for Somalia but Libya which as I said before the NATO & the allies dumped bombs on it, is a Somalia in waiting.
As in Somalia, the allies have fairly limited goals, basically regime change. The state in Libya is largely an afterthought, not much like the untold stories of suffering refugees including the thousands perishing at sea in the process of fleeing to Europe.
Somalia is a great understudy for Libya because of several reasons including its tribal/clan infrastructure, which doubtless will be the next stage of the confrontation, once the state under Gadaffi withers away. It looks also likely that it will split in two, as the more conservative East seeks either to break away or dominate the West. If ever there is hopelessness in a regional or international force at that later stage of the Libyan crisis; Somalia will provide valuable lessons.
Firstly that state institutions, the core infrastructure will remain essential in holding together whatever remains from the war- a protracted war at this stage. In fact the allies aught save the Libyan state not destroy it as a system, in their bid to uproot Gadaffi. Anyway as in Somalia this may not really be such a big concern for NATO whose leader was offering light-weight platitudes about doing the right thing in Libya in the New York times.
The extent of the Libyan crisis will be determined by the extent of the destruction of the state as it is. If that system, long built around Gadaffi, collapses, recovery will be as difficult as Somalia.
Also the threat by Museveni to withdraw troops in Somalia will likely work because the allies have very little choice in East Africa after investing so much in AMISOM. It shows that regional mechanisms, which I have long favored, do have the potential for reciprocal leverage in the politics of conflict in Africa. If policing Libya eventually falls to some AMISOM like institution which is likely, it should consider moving forward quickly beyond the military problem.
Eventually what Libya will require is a surge by one side too. Hopefully it is by a domestic force of some legitimacy and not an external force.